The Grace Year

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Kim Liggett, The Grace Year, Del Rey, September 2019, 416 pp., RRP $32.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781529100594

The Grace Year has lofty ambitions, however, when compared to something like The Power, which I counted as one of the best books I’ve read, it fails to reach them.

First, the good. Born into a town that is never fully articulated well in the book, Tierney is a character who hits all the right beats of an outsider: she stands up for herself when she can, and she would rather work than be a wife (which, given the horrendous way women are treated, stands to reason).

Women essentially have no rights in this world. Men control everything, and they can make a false accusation against a current wife, so that they are free to take new wives when the latest batch of girls return from their Grace Year – for then they are ready for marriage. Even dreaming is a crime.

During the Grace Year part of the book, the girls in the woods and the camp where they must stay for a year is akin to The Lord of the Flies. It is creepy and violent, and when this part of the book started, I was genuinely afraid for what I would read when I turned the page. However, that only extends so far, because of a narrative choice that somewhat relieves the girls in the camp of responsibilities. However, Tierney spends precious little time here, because she’s caught by one of the poachers, the men who hunt the girls in the woods during their Grace Year.

This is where the book ultimately lost me, I think: Tierney is fiercely against the idea of being forced to be a wife, so when she chooses to fall in love with a poacher, it is an act for herself and against the patriarchy in her world. That part I get. But, on the other hand, for all the injustices in this world, romance is not where I expected this book to go at all, or how much time was spent on this romance. Further to this, the choices Tierney makes when she returns to her town left me mystified – even more so when compared to the character in the beginning of the book, and when the revelations of her far more complex family (than even she thought) come to light.

The Grace Year has lofty ambitions and reaches them to an extent, but it ultimately cannot hold a candle to The Power.

Reviewed by Verushka Byrow

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